Can One String Affect a Whole Violin ?

March 22, 2015 at 12:03 AM · I briefly saw posts about string choices including a test package of "E" strings ( from Quinn ). Am I to believe that the "E" strings can create a new sound for the whole violin ? No way!

I had to resolve my doubt so I bought the "E" set and ran my own tests. I used a typical "advancing student" violin having 3 Helicore strings + the test "E".

I tried the Hill special first, allowing at least 24 hours to settle down. The Hill string uses a little rubber donut which I included.

I would say that this Hill "E" made a difference but nothing to get excited about.

Then I tried the Westminster KG and I would say that the violin was "improved" but hardly enough reason to change "E" strings.

This string used a tiny tube which was included for the test.

Then it was the Pirastro Oliv. Same routine including the small tube supplied. After I installed this "E" I just happened to pluck the "E" and I heard the most musical sound I ever heard from any "E" and the whole violin mellowed out.

I'm still not sure I believe this so I'm continuing with this string (day 4) and it is sounding good.

The Quinn "E" package has like 6 kinds of strings but I don't want to take off the Oliv right now.

I can only guess that the different strings (tension) somehow are changing the violin body vibration patterns ?

Replies (26)

March 22, 2015 at 12:42 AM · Yes.

March 22, 2015 at 01:06 AM · Absolutely -- E string selection is critical. Have fun testing!

March 22, 2015 at 03:47 AM · It is a mystical, mysterious, and marvelous thing the changes a simple E string can bring.

Just had a violin with Doms on it. Played it for a few days, then swapped out the A for a Jargar. The E itself felt much clearer, and the A became much more tame and even sounding. The whole set sounded more resonant.

I also just changed the A on my Viola, and it had similar global changes to the entire set (Brilliants on that instrument).

March 22, 2015 at 04:06 AM · BTW, Darlene, have you tried other strings on your violin besides Helicores?

Other E strings I have liked:

Pirastro Tonica wound E- warm and easy to play, no whistling. Not the best for super brilliant bell like clarity, but cruise control ease for lower position tunes for beginner players.

Pirastro Universal E- clearer and brighter than the Tonica (which is aluminum wound, the Universal is chrome wound, I believe), also whistle resistant.

Warchal Ametyst E-clear and bell like clarity, goes well with the Ametyst set.

Tzigane E- another clear singing E. I have it mounted as part of the set. I like it a lot (I love the Tziganes as a set, great strings).

March 22, 2015 at 02:08 PM · Helicores have become my "go-to" strings but maybe not for best sound. What I like is that they seem to have a good balance across the set.

Some brands on my violin change sound quality for each string which can be very confusing when crossing strings during a passage.

I actually have had little trouble with "E"s, in fact, I like the sharp focus of most "E"s for clarity of intonation versus an often muffled "D".

My recent "miracle" Oliv "E" is still sounding OK along with the "new" sounds for the other strings.

Before I ever laid a bow on the newly installed Oliv, I noticed something odd. When I just plucked the string, it rang "forever" and I never heard an "E" do that.

March 22, 2015 at 02:35 PM · 2 things to keep in mind:

1. E - string contributes the most the overall string tension

2. This is in most of the cases the only metal string on your instrument

March 22, 2015 at 03:37 PM · Absolutely!!!

The Peter Infeld (PI) platinum-plated E string has completely transformed some of the violins I have put it on. Even though it costs about $30, I expect to never use a different E string unless an even better one comes along. I have used it with sets of PI, Thomastic Vision Solo, and Evah Pirazzi Gold strings.

My critical test on a violin is if I can play a two octave scale up the G string. The PI Pt E cured violins that were very harsh above the 2nd C up the G string with other E strings. (I also found that a set of Larsem Tzigane strings was good on those violins too, but not on other violins that did not ahve this problem.

The nickel PI E string does not work the same way.


March 22, 2015 at 03:38 PM · That certainly is an endorsement which I may have to try!

Part of my doubt is that "E" tension specs are often similar compared to the whole SET. For instance, if a set total is 40 lbs.,

why should it be a major change to boost the "E" by 1/4 pound?

However, I never argue with success !

March 23, 2015 at 08:59 AM · Ironically, I love the Stark Oliv E because it makes the whole instrument quite a bit more resonant, rather than "more mellow", which I don't necessarily am looking for. Haven't used it for some time, but still believe it has the most beautiful tone from all the E strings I have tried (including the wound ones, which also do sound nice but I don't prefer for other balance reasons) while being VERY powerful, quite ringing, and clear throughout the range.

(E string whistles are, IMHO, a)valid accidents, b)can theoretically be avoided for the most part, and c)violin and setup dependant at times-it's possible to play Gold-plated strings without much if any whistling, though of course, they may still not be an option for some players and/or violins.)

The medium Gold label E and its equivalents (different brand lines, same strings) sound very nice as well, despite being slightly less powerful than Stark Oliv, Westminster 27.5, or Jargar Forte. That said, I still like the Westminster 27.5 and Oliv E the "best" for what I am looking for my music and my violin. I am currently trying something else with Gold label medium E (actually, another Pirastro brand, same string), however, and can't complain about the tone, it being an excellent match for the other strings, as well as having crystal clear clarity in the highest registers.

March 23, 2015 at 12:48 PM · I have not even considered grades ( stark, etc. ) of strings which really increases the possibilities but my intuitive guess is that "light" may not be the way to go?

March 23, 2015 at 01:23 PM · For some players, a lighter gauge E works, but most would have more practical use for a Medium "whatever" string. It can be too thin, you risk the sound being more delicate, and it will 100% have an effect on the rest of the strings as well (such effect varies depending on violin, and obviously enough someone can prefer it vs the other options.)

That said, many players love what the slightly higher tension of a "heavy/stark/forte/etc." E string does for the whole instrument. It's not warranted that the tone must be better, but it certainly changes how the other strings sound, in many cases adding further brilliance while in others darkening the sound a bit while making it more vigorous, so to speak (some strings, like the Jargar and Westminster are more "famous" for their thicker gauges, even though medium is also used.)

I would not recommend a thin E to begin with; however, IMHO, heavy gauges are worth the exploration. The additional power can be welcome, though many excellent Medium Es still project well. Nobody is "wrong" for using them, but one should have a good idea of the desired effect when going for a light E.

(Further thinner strings do sound brighter, so in some cases, the E string, already usually bright, MAY sound too much so, and perhaps without that much volume.)

March 23, 2015 at 01:46 PM · I am guessing that the heavy gauge E effect is due to the physic of the E string position pretty much directly above the treble bridge foot and soundpost.

By adding a heavier gauge E, it is probably affecting the way the tension is balanced over this critical position.

Many people feel that a heavy gauge E "opens up" the lower strings. My hypothesis is that if the soundpost/treble foot is the fulcrum around which the vibration oscillates, a heavy gauge E helps better offset the rest of the set.

March 23, 2015 at 02:08 PM · It's probably just my temperament, but I go for a softer violin E (aluminium-wound),and viola A (synthetic). But I did find that a tenser E gave more overtones to the whole violin, which is not what I expected.

March 23, 2015 at 03:02 PM · I see that I am due for some starke "E" tests.

My general impression for my present (and past) violins is dull "D" and noisy "A". I counter this with changes in sounding point as much as I can.

Maybe this string swapping suggests that there is a violin body resonance that also may involve the sound post position?

March 23, 2015 at 03:50 PM · I've found that a heavier E can open up the rest of the instrument, but I've also found that on other instruments, it can close the rest of the instrument.

March 23, 2015 at 03:51 PM · Many of us violinist and violists find that the D-string is "like playing on wet cardboard"!

Since the placings on the bridge are different, I think it must come from the strings themselves: a difficulty in finding the best combination of tension versus flexiblity. A synthetic D, wound with silver rather than aluminium, is thinner for the same mass, and I get a brighter tone with better response.

March 23, 2015 at 11:47 PM · Ever increasing tension will inevitably lead to many great instruments damaged. The damage will not happen over night, but over the span of many years.

Martin and other guitar producers had to completely re-design the bracing patterns in order to support the top plate due to increased tension of metal strings.

Our violins have not changed since the major re haul in romantic era.

Do as you please, but keep in mind that we are just custodians of our violins, and will one day have to pass our instruments to the next generation of players.

March 24, 2015 at 04:14 PM · Thinking out loud...............

If higher tension improves sound quality, what happens if I back off the E string as a test? The remaining strings suffer?

March 24, 2015 at 04:45 PM · It is not necessarily true that higher tension = improved tone. Many strings come in a variety of tensions, and some very popular strings only come in a "low" tension version (I believe Dominants are an example).

The relationship between tone and tension seems to be dictated mostly by each individual violin.

What seems to be a general rule is that higher tension strings can enable one to play louder.

In general, backing off on the tension of a string makes that string sound lousy, especially wound synthetics. They are crafted to give their truest ring at a given tension.

March 24, 2015 at 04:49 PM · Dominants are available in 3 different gauges.

I think it's important to remember too that heavier gauge strings can allow you to dig in more, but that doesn't necessarily equate to louder.

March 24, 2015 at 10:34 PM · Maybe a stiff, new violin can be kick-started with higher tension strings, and they are more forgiving of clumsy bowing, but on all my instruments I get more tone variation and richness changing to lower tension. Fewer near-wolves, too.

March 25, 2015 at 01:14 AM · I have tried all the strings in the Quinn E-set.

Results with "advancing student" grade violin:

All strings had the little tubes which I did use for the tests.

My other 3 strings are Helicores.

Hill Special Steel Violin - Made a difference but no significant improvement.

Westminster - "Better" but not convincing enough to change strings.

Pirastro Oliv - Definitely much better than I was used to with Helicores.

Pirastro Gold - Nice but too mellow for me.

Lenzner - Louder. Balanced. Exceptional focus helps define the notes ... right OR wrong.

Kaplan - Golden Spiral. The little brass ball would not stay on the string and I lost patience.

I do believe I now have a violin that I will enjoy much more. I'm going with the Lenzner string.

I still may try some starke strings in the future.

March 25, 2015 at 01:40 AM · A Lenzer heavy gauge will set you back all of about $4, if you want to give it a whirl...

Thanks for sharing your findings!

March 26, 2015 at 11:08 AM · I wonder how an E-string can be too "mellow"?

But then I am a violist who uses an Aricore A..

March 26, 2015 at 11:23 AM · I think the Pirastro Gold Label E's "magic" is that it may sound "mellow" compared to many of the alternatives, but usually blends well with the other strings and speaks clearly and brilliantly in the highest registers, so the tone carries pretty well despite what may appear to be as less volume under the ear. I find it to be an excellent string, and I say so even after using thicker Es for many years now.

Gold Label Medium (and Goldbrokat Medium too)are worth using for many violins/players, IMHO.

March 26, 2015 at 01:20 PM · My remarks are mainly about the resultant sound of my violin with different E strings but not intended to be a critique of individual strings. And I would expect different opinions from other players.

I think that it is important to know that the average student can safely do something to possibly improve their violin without the services of a luthier. In fact, I have had more positive results with E string changing than hours of sound post adjustments.

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